Hands-On Review – Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda GT

The Skinny

  • Diameter: 42mm
  • Thickness: 11.5mm
  • Movement: PF044 (In-House)
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Price: $24,900 as tested
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As an engineer with a passion for watches and how they are made, for me one of the most intriguing aspects of the Parmigiani story is how a relatively small manufacturer became one of the most vertically integrated in Switzerland.

A Dream Born of a Crisis

I’ll get straight to the point, the new Parmigiani Tonda GT in rose gold really focuses your attention. The wow-factor that first accompanied this watch when the box was opened showed no sign of diminishing after several days on the wrist. But, before we get into that, a little background on Parmigiani Fleurier…

Parmigiani Fleurier is an independent watchmaking house located in the town of Fleurier within the region of Val-de-Travers, in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. Launched in 1996 by master watchmaker Michel Parmigiani, the roots of the business go back much further – in Michel’s own words, back to the quartz crisis of the 1970s. Michel was 26 and the time had come to decide on his professional path. Should he follow his passion and become an architect, or should he react to the horological events unfolding around him in the Val-de-Travers? The quartz crisis was in full effect and Swiss watchmaking faced a seemingly bleak and uncertain future but in a characteristically contrarian move, Michel felt implored to rebuff his architectural ambitions and enroll in Val-de-Travers school of watchmaking. 

Upon graduation, Michel continued his contrarian approach and embarked upon a path of independent restoration rather than seeking employment with the larger watchmakers. Here was evidence of the mindset that would become a vital feature of Parmigiani Fleurier still 20 years in the future. When faced with such choices, Michel was proving a tendency to follow his heart as much as his head. He began to specialize in automata and this brought him to the attention of the Sandoz Family Foundation. Michel was soon asked to be the resident watchmaker responsible for maintaining the priceless Maurice-Yves Sandoz collection. This partnership between Michel Parmigiani and the Sandoz foundation was soon to become fundamental to Michel’s future since it was the foundation, that in 1996, finally persuaded Michel to fulfill his quartz-crisis dream of launching his own watchmaking house of Parmigiani Fleurier.

The quartz crisis was in full effect and Swiss watchmaking faced a seemingly bleak and uncertain future but in a characteristically contrarian move, Michel felt implored to rebuff his architectural ambitions and enroll in Val-de-Travers school of watchmaking. 

A Watchmaking Tour de Force

As an engineer with a passion for watches and how they are made, one of the most intriguing aspects of the Parmigiani story for me is how a relatively small manufacturer became one of the most vertically integrated in Switzerland. To put this question into perspective, most Swiss watchmakers, especially at the high end, simply do not make all of their components. The history of Swiss watchmaking after all was always a large number of individual companies making the separate parts with the brands assembling them for sale. Of course, that was Switzerland before the quartz crisis and the Swatch group consolidation, but complete vertical integration is still not common, especially for small companies producing hundreds of watches per year rather than the behemoths producing millions.

To understand how this vertical integration is possible one must remember back to founder Michel’s relationship with the Sandoz Family Foundation. Over the years, the foundation has carefully acquired, restructured or created a number of artisanal companies around Michel Parmigiani that enables him to produce watches entirely in-house. The resultant watchmaking center comprises five separate companies and is officially known as the ‘Pôle Horloger de la Fondation de Famille Sandoz’ and has further evolved recently into a joint venture between Sandoz (75%) and Hermès (25%). Due to the co-ownership, it is not surprising to find the watchmaking center creating components for Hermès watches in addition to those of Parmigiani. 

The first of the companies established by the Sandoz Foundation as key to the watchmaking center was ‘Les Artisans Boîtiers’ acquired in 2000. This La Chaux-de-Fonds operation was already established as an expert manufacturer of watch cases and so naturally became the first component supplier to be brought in-house. All Parmigiani watch cases are created by Les Artisans Boîtiers via CNC-machining and then finished by hand.

The resultant watchmaking center comprises five separate companies and is officially known as the ‘Pôle Horloger de la Fondation de Famille Sandoz’ 

Each Parmigiani Fleurier movement is made by Vaucher SA, another watchmaking center business setup by Sandoz in 2003. Movement components, such hairsprings and wheels, are sourced from Atokalpa and Elwin, two more Sandoz watchmaking center businesses, and then further finished, decorated and assembled into the watch’s movement. Vaucher also performs the final assembly of all Parmigiani watches bar the most exclusive editions which are assembled in Michel’s own boutique across the road from Vaucher. Vaucher also manufacture movements for other brands but are unsurprisingly coy about naming which ones.

Since 2005, dials have been made in-house by ‘Quadrance et Habillage SA’ in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Quadrance is a mathematical reference to the brand’s belief in, and adherence to, Euclid’s golden ratio of harmonious proportions while Habillage is typically translated as encasing or covering but it this context I think it can be interpreted as finishing. The dials are then created according to exacting standards, even for Switzerland, with all cutting, dying, anodizing and other plating and coloring performed on premises. Finally, dials are printed before markers and other elements applied by hand.

Vaucher also manufacture movements for other brands but are unsurprisingly coy about naming which ones.

So what we have in Parmigiani Fleurier, from a manufacturing perspective, is something quite unique, even in Swiss watchmaking. We have a number of individual businesses devised, bought or created with the single aim of supporting and enabling one man’s vision for the construction of exemplary timepieces. (The closest comparison has to be Rolex under Wilsdorf’s leadership, which ended in 1960.) A noble endeavor indeed, but how does all this effort and investment translate into the Parmigiani Tonda?

The Tonda Range

The Tonda range is one of Parmigiani’s permanent collections and is the collection aimed at the luxury sports watch buyer. The other permanent collections are the Kalpa range, which provides a large number of dress watch variations on a tonneau-shaped case theme, and the Tonda range of elegant round watches with restrained styling. The Tonda range is then further split into Tondagraph GT chronograph with an annual calendar complication, the three-hand sports-oriented Tonda GT with a big date complication and the Tonda 1950 dress watch range without complications. You can read James’s hands-on review of the Tondagraph GT here.

Quadrance is a mathematical reference to the brand’s belief in, and adherence to, Euclid’s golden ratio of harmonious proportions

The Tonda GT is available in stainless steel with black rubber strap, in stainless steel with a matching stainless steel bracelet, in rose gold with a dark blue rubber strap and rose gold with matching rose gold bracelet. The stainless steel watches are limited to 250 pieces and are priced at $13,500 on rubber and $14,500 on the bracelet. The rose gold version, such as the one we have here is limited to 150 pieces and is priced at $24,900 on rubber or $49,500 on the gold bracelet.

This is definitely a watch for the yacht club rather than the country club.

The styling of the Tonda GT is clearly derived from Parmigiani’s earlier Tonda 1950 but taken in a radically modern, sporting direction resulting in a watch that is neither formal nor informal, but is always absolutely luxurious. This is definitely a watch for the yacht club rather than the country club. While the overall design moves Parmigiani into a less formal space than its other watches, it remains a Michel Parmigiani masterclass in the superlative execution of detail and decoration.

Initial Impressions

The first impression of the Tonda GT is absolutely dominated by the pale rose gold of that case. My reaction, and every one else’s reaction that saw the watch for the first time, was simply… wow. The stark contrast between the dark blue rubber strap and the rose gold definitely creates much of the visual drama here. The next impression is that the watch is quite large, especially before wearing it. In reality the watch is squarer in aspect than you expect and so does not feel so large on the wrist. At 42mm, the watch’s size looks good even to me – someone who naturally gravitates to watches 38mm in diameter or less. 

The styling of the Tonda GT is clearly derived from Parmigiani’s earlier Tonda 1950 style – but taken in a radically modern, sporting direction.

On the wrist, the watch is very comfortable and does not feel heavy. What weight there is feels well balanced. A slim height of 11mm really helps here, keeping the mass close to your wrist. This is a watch that I think almost all people will find appropriately sized and comfortable to wear. There were times when I really did forget I was wearing the watch, but only when it also happened to be out of sight. As soon as that rose gold case entered my peripheral vision, it made its presence very apparent indeed. 

The Case

The case from Les Artisans Boîtiers is extremely well finished. Edges are crisp rather than sharp and details are meticulous. Integration with the rubber strap is tight and well executed. The familiar Parmigiani coin edge bezel is there of course and exudes a smooth, confident precision in its execution. The texture of the coin edge frames the dial neatly and effectively separates the design details of the case from the design details of the dial. 

The modernized teardrop lugs protrude crisply but not far from the circular mid-case with its delicately curving undercut and neatly suggest vintage case designs of old while simultaneously flowing smoothly into the integrated strap. A brushed finish on the rose gold differentiates the space between the lugs from the polished lugs themselves. On the bracelet versions of this watch, this brushed section echoes the brushed links on the bracelet and helps in integration of those two elements. However, on the rubber strap variant, I feel the design does not work so well and I would have liked to see the rubber strap extend all the way to the bezel in a tight fitting curve. As it is, I think the lug design feels a little dated when combined with the rubber strap. To my eye, the metal bracelet works much better with this particular design detail, so there has been a bit of a trade-off for the rubber strap.

At 42mm, the watch’s size looks good even to me – someone who naturally gravitates to watches 38mm in diameter or less.

The crown is not large for the case and seems even more diminutive because of the lack of crown guards. It is signed with Parmigiani’s logo. Manually winding the watch and adjusting the time works just as you would expect and feels as good as any movement I have tried. The feel of the crown winding the barrel via the pinion and winding wheel feels precise and meticulous. Meticulous is a word that comes to mind again and again with this Parmigiani Fleurier.

The dark teal rubber strap is a perfect colour match to the dial and the rose gold deployant is nicely engineered. I do love how the guilloché pattern from the dial is repeated on the strap. However, the strap on our example was harder than it should have been and lacked the expected luxurious feel expected. Parmigiani assure us this is down to the strap being a pre-production prototype and will be improved on customer examples.

Meticulous is a word that comes to mind again and again with this Parmigiani Fleurier.

The Dial

The dial of the Tonda GT is the same dark teal colour as the rubber bracelet and positively dances with gold highlights from the finely polished hands ands markers. The fine ‘Guilloché Clou triangulaire’ of the main dial is as perfect as one would expect from Quadrance et Habillage, a recognized leader in the dial production. In one word, I would describe the dial as meticulous. Yes, there is that word again used in relation to this watch. 

The guilloché center covers the majority of the dial, extending to within half of a marker’s length of the edge of the dial. At this point, the guilloché transitions to 8 concentric stepped rings which lead up to a minute track finely delineated in white paint. The combination of the rich colour and the fine texture of the guilloché reminds me of the diamond stitched leather interiors found in 60s Ferraris. 

At 12 o-clock, there are the two windows for the big date complication. These frames are executed in 18ct gold with some fine brushing on top and with a different texture apparent on the inside if you choose to look close enough. At 6 o’clock is the small seconds sub dial: split 0-30 and 30-60 into two semi-circular tracks printed in the same fine white ink as the chapter ring. To reflect the split second tracks, the second hand is asymmetric with one side representing 0-30 and the other representing 30-60. This is a clever and playful approach to the standard small seconds dial that further differentiates the Tonda GT’s dial from, dare I say it, more run-of-the-mill luxury sports watches. 

The combination of the rich colour and the fine texture of the guilloché reminds me of the diamond stitched leather interiors found in 60s Ferraris.

The Parmigiani Fleurier branding is at 3 o’clock giving an overall feeling of space and openness. No details seem cramped or disproportionate here, everything is very well balanced. Compared to the dial of the Tondagraph GT which has to manage two more subdials and a day and month indicator, the Tonda GT’s dial is positivle spacious. Everyone who saw the watch commented on just how pretty the dial is. 

In one word, I would describe the dial as meticulous. Yes, there is that word again. 

The applied markers are formed from hollow 18ct gold rectangles, doubled at 12 o’clock, which at first glance seem empty. Owners will quickly realize that the markers are filled with black lume. Unfortunately black lume is not particularly effective, only staying luminescent for minutes rather than hours. I do appreciate that there is lume but I wonder if the use of black lume is a step too far in terms of form over function since it does not glow long enough to be useful. The skeletonized sword hands are as elegant and as well-executed as one would expect with a wonderfully modern take on the ornate in keeping with the rest of the watch’s design. The tips of the hands are filled with the same black lume that fills the markers. 

The Movement

The Tonda GT’s in-house 28800bph, 33 jewel, 274 component PF044 movement comes with a 45-hour power reserve and automatic winding. Looking through the exhibition caseback reveals an arresting 22k gold rotor. Beyond that are the finely finished bridges resplendent with their Côtes de Genève stripes and a small balance feveriously roatating back and forth. Overall, there is not much to see, but what there is looks well-made and precise. 

On the timegrapher, the Tonda GT performed flawlessly with 0 degrees of beat error and an accuracy within 3 seconds regardless of position. On the wrist, the performance was equally fine with the few seconds gained per day easily trimmed via the hacking crown if needed. During our time with the watch there was no indication of any issues with the movement or its time-keeping.

In Summary

The Tonda GT is a beautifully executed Sports Luxury watch by a Swiss Haute Horology manufacturer whose compelling story line is refreshingly different from its rivals. It exhibits a high level of manufacturing excellence in keeping with Michel’s Parmigiani’s journey as a watchmaker. The watch is well-balanced, proportionate, easy to wear and elegant, perhaps in part down to Parmigiani’s adherence to the golden ratio as a design influence. If you looking for a luxury watch with considerable visual drama combined with ample exquisite detailing, and the brand’s story resonates with you, the Tonda GT deserves your consideration.